By Katherine Wright 

While cleaning out my room this past summer, I found an old disposable camera in the back of my dresser. Considering I had no recent memory of purchasing one, I figured it must have been from a long time ago. A time capsule, of sorts.

Knowing that the old version of myself was very unorganized and therefore very unlikely to have gotten this ancient camera developed, I assumed it was still full of photographs. So, I dropped it off at CVS and excitedly went to retrieve it a few weeks later, with absolutely no idea what the content might be.

I knew I was about to be thoroughly disappointed when the CVS employee told me that she wouldn’t charge me for the “photos.” She sorted through them with immense confusion in her eyes, probably questioning my sanity. Even still, I looked forward to seeing what kind of images would prompt a free batch of photographs.

Long story short: there were about 25 photos and 22 of them were just black rectangles — the sad fragments of completely destroyed images. However, there were three salvaged, faint photographs laying in the wreckage of my dresser discovery: an anticlimactic series of my sister’s room and my brother holding up some sort of toy, all from about 10 years ago. 

Despite the minimalism of these images, it was still fascinating to see the uncovered photos, even if it didn’t reveal a lost family photo or a secret treasure map. The fact that they were from so long ago, and were the probable result of me taking random photos around my house, was still a really cool thing to discover. It was a preservation of a childhood activity, even if the photos themselves had deteriorated. 

These days, it’s great to be able to easily capture any moment. One testament to just how easy it is is my bottomless camera roll, brimming with photos of food, friends and squirrels so strikingly large that they seemed worthy of documentation. Every photo of a person has about 15 duplicates — the result of trying to get the right angle or right lighting or right position. 

Although littered with screenshots and embarrassing photos, it’s still nice to have the ability to quickly pick up a phone and capture a moment before it subsides. Scrolling back through my photos can give me an instant summary of what exciting thing happened that day and can be a wonderful reminder of some of my favorite moments. 

However, there’s something so raw and real about the old-timey, physical photographs that a disposable camera can provide. Because you have a finite amount of film, you have to make the most of every click and you won’t even know what the photo actually looks like until weeks later in the photo aisle of a drugstore.

A few months ago, my friend and I went on a hiking expedition and she brought along two Kodak cameras. Every photo we took was strategically calculated to maximize the amount of images and moments we could capture and it felt great to be stingy with a camera for once. 

In an effort to avoid my past mistakes, I got them developed right when I arrived home. A few weeks later, while sifting through my photos in the parking lot of a local CVS, I had a blast looking at the results of our spontaneous photography, where we were unable to control the lighting or selectively choose the best image. We look like complete ghosts in a few of them where the flash got out of hand. 

All in all, there’s something so wonderful about the ambiguity, mystery and physicality of the disposable camera. Maybe I’ll take some more random photos on a Kodak and leave it in the back of my dresser to discover in 10 years. It’ll be a time capsule, a treasure hunt and a fun, old-fashioned look into the past.